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Edelman Highlights Conference on Service for Children

September 21, 2000
CONTACT: Bill Giduz

Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) was on campus Friday, September 15, for workshops designed to motivate college students and community activists throughout the state to help children in need.
Marian Wright Edelman at the podium

Edelman was on hand to open the conference, which was a joint venture between her agency and the college. She inspired the 100 or so registrants from colleges and public service agencies with word of a major new CDF initiative to lobby for legislative passage of a broad-based agenda of childrens services."It's time for a revolution in our moral and political values," she said. "We can't wait, because Ghandi and King aren't coming back. We're the ones who must get it done. We're not them, but each of you cares and is willing to serve."

Following her remarks, participants attended workshops where they learned about the CDF's six current initiatives. They are:
Political science faculty member Ken Menkhaus speaks with another conference participant

  • The Student Leadership Network for Children, a national network of young people committed to improving the lives of children.
  • An overview of juvenile justice legislation, and discussion of legislative proposals pending in Congress.
  • The Child Watch Visitation Program, which brings decision makers and business leaders face-to-face with at-risk children in their communities in an attempt to highlight the needs many children face.
  • Freedom Schools, which are summer enrichment programs for needy children that attempt to address their needs in holistic fashion, including parental involvement.
  • Child Poverty, a discussion of why 12.5-million children remain poor, and strategies that help parents get and keep jobs.
  • SHOUT, a program to register the 7-million children eligible for health insurance under the Children's Health Insurance Program or Medicaid.

    The Davidson conference represented a new method of outreach for the CDF. The group has trained about 3,000 young people in the past five years primarily through four-day Advanced Service and Advocacy Workshops (ASAW) to support its goal, "Leave No Child Behind."
    Davidson service office director Ruth Pittard, Ida Wainschel '01, and Marian Wright Edelman

    Four Davidson students attended an ASAW this past summer at the Alex Haley Farm in Tennessee. Allen Lee '01 said the experience reinvigorated his long-time commitment to child advocacy. "At times I've had problems maintaining my idealism. People tell me to grow up and get my head out of the clouds," he said. "But meeting Ms. Edelman there and learning how she came from rural South Carolina to found this nationwide child advocacy movement made me realize that the sky really is the limit if you go hard at your dreams."

    Jehan Shamsid-Deen '01, came to Davidson with financial help from a CDF "Beat the Odds" scholarship, and worked as an intern last summer at the CDF offices in Washington, D.C. She explained, "The CDF believes college students have the time and access to resources to get involved. They can take it on the cause and be successful at it."
    (l-r) Aguil Deng '01 chats with International student advisor Sheri Spillman in a conference workshop

    Shamsid-Deen said Davidson is the perfect place for a SHOUT effort. "Our students are already active in childrens' issues, our community is small and close-knit so transportation isn't a problem, and our Ada Jenkins Community Center already serves as a clearing house for many service initiatives," she said.

    The Davidson conference resulted from Edelman's appearance as the keynote speaker at the college's Martin Luther King Day celebration last January. During her time on campus then, she and Davidson President Robert Vagt began discussing ways to involve college students in the work of the CDF. Davidson made sense to Edelman and Vagt as the site for a one-day conference aimed at college students because it has a strong tradition of community service activism. Once the conference was announced, many representatives from community service agencies expressed an interest in attending, and registration was opened to them.
    (l-r) Edelman and President Robert Vagt with Wayne Meisel of the Bonner Foundation

    Barbara Kelly Duncan, the CDF vice president for leadership development, said Edelman is very concerned about training a "successor generation" of leaders to carry the agency's work into the future. About 1,000 of Davidson's 1,600 students currently participate in community service, and Davidson is a core institution in the 26-college Bonner Service Scholarship Program.

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